Preaching To The Desperate And Disenfranchised
There is a whole lot of difference to be felt when preaching hits the ears of those who are searching as opposed to those who are materially contented. Sparks from a fire can do little when landing on wet grass as opposed to dry grass. When we reach out to the masses it is one thing to be indiscriminative and let Krishna do the sorting, since only He really knows who is destined for bhakti and who is not. Yet, it may be easier for Him and you if the time and place are more ideal for a connection to be made with those future candidates for pure devotional service to the Supreme.
it was the prerogative of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur to preach in the headquarters of Maya, which was at his time Calcutta. The citadel of Maya was where he launched the main focus of his attack. With the acquisition of Bag Bazzar and the printing press his conquest quickly began to unfold. The same spirit of preaching continued in the West where Sri Srimad 108 Bhaktivedanta Swami spent almost a year in the United States before he found the right time and place to bring Mahaprabhu’s message of sankirtan yagna – New York City. If Swamiji had stayed in the rural Pennsylvania setting of Butler where he first sought shelter nothing would have happened, whereas when he ventured to the biggest city on the East coast where a whole generation was looking for something new, something unique and something wonderful found it at Tomkins Square Park and 26 2nd Avenue.
The youth were rebelling against authority as never before in a country where thousands of immigrants hastened to live a life of their dreams. Crude and irreverent intellectuals lead the charge of anti-establishmentism followed by an avante guard of musicians and artists. Wanting an escape to a life without restriction or repercussions, the frustrated and fed-up, looked for a change in the status quo. The mood was contagious and thousands flocked to places like Haight-Ashbury in the West and the Lower East-side in the East with their hopes and aspirations carried with them. Swamiji or Srila Prabhupada threw out a net and captured so many with his mercy and the mercy of the Lord.
Now that period is behind us and some of us are the fruits of that intelligent decision of the acharya. But, what of the future? Where are those persons who are rejected by society and who similarly have rejected society and have the capacity to understand the message of Shree Chaitanya? Where would you be now if you were not a devotee?
To this end I would like to recall my experiences with the people who rallied around the OCCUPY WALL STREET movement which later manifested in many cities across the U.S.. A magazine called Adbusters rallied the interests of the frustrated and forlorn- those who saw environmental disasters enfolding and scorned the powerful multilateral military-industrialism flocked to make a statement to the world. The voice of these people came out like a boil on the body of the country in New York at Ziccotti Park where protesters camped out and networked together. Their voices were picked up by the press and soon the numbers began to swell due to the power of its message.
It all seemed like our version of the Arabian Spring taking inspiration from the Egyptian protest at Tahrir Square. The internet was alive with strategies and organization. The word got out on where to be, what to do and how to do it. Once people were in place then hundreds and thousands voiced their grief and drew up placards to catch the eye of the press and walkers-by. It worked. Websites came up to further fan the flames of protest and thus an assembly of people wanting positive change and yet not given to violence was born.
I had driven from Texas to Chicago after the Badger reunion with an eye to go to the East Coast where the protest started. A preaching center of sorts had
just manifested in the capital of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg and knowing Madhava Das for many years I decided to fly in to the DC airport. There I was picked up and brought to a five bedroom complex by two devotees. However, being that they were already accustomed to collecting funds (the notorious ‘pic’) at football games to pay bills and support children, I decided to use my energy at the rally in Washington DC.
My bus arrived at New Carrollton in Maryland where the local devotees had a lovely home base with a Temple room and four or five rooms for residents. It was Sanatan Goswami Dasa’s bid to somehow keep Krishna-consciousness alive in the DC area. However, meeting mortgage payments and personal rents kept everyone busy working. Not having any obligations, I took the local Metro down to the national capitol where the DC Occupy movement had secured Freedom Plaza to speak, live and exert its influence.
The Plaza was named after Marin Luter King Jr. who wrote his famous, ‘I have a dream’ speech in a nearby Hotel and is raised entirely off the street, composed of almost all granite and inlaid with various inscriptions by famous people. The Plaza is on Pennsylvania Avenue where you can see at one end the United States Congress building and the other end the White House.
The very first day I came it was just wonderful DC weather. The sun shone and as it was the weekend many tourists passed by the assembly of protesters, some of whom came from far away to join ranks with the nations disgruntled and for good reason. The country had just bailed themselves out of financial collapse. Congress borrowed trillions to float the banks, insurance companies and auto industries with taxpayer money. At the same time billions were being borrowed to finance war in Iraq and Afganistan. Something was wrong especially when many of the biggest American companies were paying less tax percentages than an average American. Some of the biggest most profitable oil companies were on government subsidy and not even paying taxes.
The country was founded on frustration with unjust taxes and revolt some two hundred and fifty years before and yet here there was notable restraint and
non-violent communication for the most part in these people.
I somehow felt that this was similar to the situation in which my guru had confronted some forty years ago when he had met a youth that was protesting the American involvement in Vietnam. So, I did as he did and began to chant. Many took photos and some stopped to comment. One boy I met rode a bike from hundreds of miles away to attend. We talked philosophy for a while and I gave him some materials to read. I would meet him again the following weekends but I later found out that there was another park where most of the young generation was camping and staging their protest. That was McPherson Square. So, after heading back to the Maryland Home/Temple and then later back on the Greyhound to Harrisburg I made plans to go on to McPherson Square the next weekend.
Back in Harrisburg I coaxed the devotees
to go out into the streets and chant. It was a beautiful capitol building and when we arrived I was surprised to see that the city fountain was tinted saffron! The day we arrived for sankirtan Harrisburg declared bankruptcy! The city was broke. Well, all the more reason to chant and give them something of real value.
We chanted for a while and moving down the city street stopped to meet an Indian
fellow who had heard us from the 13th floor of an office building. Being a very pious Bengali he could not restrain himself to come down and talk with us. We also ventured to the bus stand where a huge crowd off students waited. So, we chanted in the middle of everyone and gave out all our books and pamphlets. However, after all was said and done I still longed for returning to the national capitol for a crowd that seemed to me to be ideal.
The next weekend I made my way to DC on
the metro making sure I got off at McPherson Square. There I saw the typical students and placards. Here we are back in the ‘60’s, I thought. So, I sat facing
the statue on horseback of General James McPherson of the Union Army. It was
right in front of where some were sitting but the grass area was behind me. I suddenly noticed after about half-an-hour of kirtan that there were almost twenty people behind me all sitting in half-lotus
posture with their hands in a typical mudra for meditation. They were keen to
do something spiritual it seemed and had a little prior knowledge of yoga
postures and meditation.
So, I chanted some more and then was approached by a devotee dressed in plain clothes who was eager to join in with me. His name was Lalita-madhava from Virginia. So we struck up a twosome and continued. Then another boy came close as we chanted. He was in his late teens or twenties and definitely had an appreciation for the chanting. When I began to talk with him he told me that he had been to India and met his guru in Nepal. He also had a brother there and said that I should stay with them at the park, but also wanting to speak at the Sunday gathering in Maryland I declined. We would meet again the next weekend I told him. So, eventually as the sun set and the DC evening chill came on I headed back. But during the chanting I cannot count how many times people would come up and take photos or run their movie cameras.
The next weekend was more bliss. I opted for a more conducive place to sit where someone could easily join me. Every time I chanted someone would sit down or stop and ask about either the chant of the instrument (a tamboora). We became friends to so many and it was very endearing. There was some feeling of oneness as they took it that I was also part of the protest. But, everyone enjoyed the chanting and took books or a card with our www.purebhakti.com printed on the back. I figured that with this audience practically all are online, could easily go to the web and not only read but
listen and watch as the web could do so much to activate their initial interest.
There were a few political questions here and there as Srila Prabhupada had also encountered in New York with the war-protesters. One fellow was convinced that our hopes for the future lay in space exploration. Another supporter of the communist party was trying to convince me of their platform for change. Either way everyone was looking for or convinced that something or someone would be able to change the way things were and make it better for all. It was a heyday for dialectics and of course, I made good use of our siddhanta, but after all was said and done I finished the day off with more chanting until the sunset beckoned me back to local temple.
I came again and again meeting newer and newer people each time as well as continuing relationships that had begun. Those who were musically inclined also brought their guitars or promised to bring some chimes or bells from home. I was so intrigued with the quality of their questions and the appreciation they had for the kirtan. But, this was now late November and winter was approaching. So, despite my attachment to all the kids and the adults of McPherson Square I decided to head down south to Florida for warmer weather. I knew that there must be a similar movement in Tampa or
Miami and so flew into Ft. Myers. The week I left there was a foot of snow outside the house in Harrisburg where I had made one last visit.
Tampa was quite warm and welcoming. But alas there was not the same crowd as DC and no one seemed to be even camping out. Nonetheless, I found that the young kids were happy to hear the chant. One curious kid stopped and gave his name as Sri Ram. It seemed he had some contact with Eastern philosophy, so we befriended each other and talked through the afternoon. Others gathered and more and more cards and pamphlets were distributed gratis at Occupy Tampa. Sri Ram it seems was from Ft. Meyers where I had landed
and after a second week of chanting offered to assist us in going to Miami. So, we drove East across the everglades and landed at the home of Ragunath Das in Miami Beach.
Sri Ram met Gaurapran Das and got on great and were the same age. We all chanted together and worshipped the large Dieties of Radha and Krishna on the 6th floor of a multilevel condominium. Sri Ram stayed for about three days and then was spotted by a distant uncle who saw him on TV the first day at the Occupy Miami. Television TV cameras were wanting to film the protesters and the coalition they had made with union workers. The turn-out included busloads of young adults from Ft. Lauderdale, who saw us and were not the least hesitant to join in. They were moved by the Harinam and one young man spontaneously recited parts of the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.
It was a wonderful experience with the youth of the country and the men and women who caste their lots for a better life. Without a doubt Washington DC was my favorite place, although I am sure New York would have also been exciting times. But now even the Occupy Movement is gone from McPherson Square and the happening at Ziccotti Park near Wall Street is also history due to the powerful police and park officials there. Will it ever happen again? Who knows? No doubt the ideology lives on and the people are there wanting something fresh and new to satisfy their souls.
Whether a change will come or not only Krishna knows and of course any material change does not necessarily mean life will be any better. Death, disease, old age and repeated birth do their work without the least consideration for political allegiance. I sometimes wonder what will happen next with this country and whether we will see another phase of public outcry. Time and again virtually all material changes in government and the people’s choices or lack of choices in national rule have never proved to bring about inner peace and satisfaction.
We have a permanent solution though, Krishna-consciousness. All it requires is a curious mind willing to probe the ramifications of full surrender to the Lord of the heart. Should they but pause for a moment’s reflection then there is all possibility for a genuine change to occur. Where time and circumstances allows us then certainly Krishna will send some sincere souls our way. In the final issue it is only Krishna-consciousness that can save one from suffering defeat by the progress of Kali. All attempts for happiness outside of Krishna-consciousness are surely in vain.
Still, we look for those prime time moments of unrest and searching, where there are actually hungry souls seeking nourishment. If food is given to those who are satisfied and full, then they will disregard your offer, but if someone is actually hungry then he will be more open to see what you have and often take a bite.
GAURA PREMANANDE HARI BOL